Two of the party’s statewide hopefuls for one of Georgia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, spoke to Bulloch County Democrats during their 2019 gala.
Almost 150 people attended the Bulloch County Democratic Committee’s annual fundraising and awards-presentation dinner, Friday night, Oct. 4, in a banquet room at the Williams Center on the Georgia Southern University campus. The event had been delayed from the week of Hurricane Dorian.
A third Senate candidate, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, sent her campaign manager and a video. Ossoff, Terry and Tomlinson will face off in the May 19 primary for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue in the November 2020 general election.
“Even now David Perdue is saying that it can’t be done. He is saying that defeating him isn’t possible,” said Terry, the first to speak. “Well, I am here to say, and I know all of the other Democrats here running are here to say, that we will prove him wrong, because David Perdue thinks that Georgia wants a senator who cares more about being Trump’s right hand than representing and listening to everyday Georgians.”
After Terry became mayor of Clarkston, he decided it was more important to meet with constituents in local restaurants, coffee shops and parks than to have a nice office at City Hall, he said. So he had the door and interior walls of the mayor’s office removed.
“David Perdue, on the other hand, has been senator for almost five years now and he has yet to hold a single town-hall meeting,” Terry asserted. “He thinks that the only people he has to listen to are the corporate lobbyists and the corporate PACs (political action committees), the people running our country that are funding his campaign.”
The gala’s printed program and Terry himself both referred to Clarkston, of which he has been mayor since January 2014, as “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.” The town in DeKalb County near Atlanta has about 13,000 people by recent estimates, and about 50 percent of those residents were born in other countries, he said.
“We’ve been resettling refuges and welcoming asylum seekers for over 40 years,” Terry said in an interview before dinner.
Terry and his town have made several policy moves that have turned heads among progressives. He and Clarkston City Council raised the minimum wage for city employees to $15 and made each Election Day a city holiday.
More influentially statewide, Clarkston under his leadership “decriminalized” simple misdemeanor marijuana possession three years ago.
Terry noted that a dozen other Georgia cities have since decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, from Atlanta and South Fulton to Savannah and little Ludowici.
The Clarkston policy is technically similar to what Statesboro City Council enacted last December as a “cite and release” ordinance. Police acting under the city ordinance issue a ticket, leading to a potential fine but no jail time. But Clarkston’s fine is $75; Statesboro’s maximum fine is $500. Police in both cities retain discretion to make an arrest, resulting in jail time, under the state law.
Mayor of Clarkston is not a full-time position. Terry served as director of the Georgia Sierra Club for three years before resigning recently. Earlier, he worked for the Georgia AFL-CIO, and before that, as fundraising organizer for then-Rep. John Barrow in this district.
Now 36, Terry was elected as the youngest mayor in Clarkston’s history, but called himself “the oldest millennial” in the Senate race, as Ossoff is about four years younger. If elected, either of them could become the youngest member of the U.S. Senate, where the youngest currently is Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, age 39.
In 2017, Ossoff, from Atlanta, ran for Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat in a special election. Karen Handel, the Republican former Georgia secretary of state, won the seat in a runoff with Ossoff, but he captured 48.1% of the votes in a district that had been solidly Republican.
Now he is running for Senate as an anti-corruption crusader, taking cues from his work as a film executive.
For the past six years, Ossoff has served as chief executive officer of Insight TWI, a longer-established, Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning production company. Its filmmaking teams turn investigations of topics such as official corruption and human rights abuses in various parts of the world into documentaries.
“We take on corrupt officials and we hold them accountable, and when we reflect upon our own political system and this situation, this serious, this dire situation that we find ourselves in now, the corruption in our society, in our own politics is right in front of our eyes,” Ossoff told local Democrats.
“When Congress refuses to crack down on price gouging by pharmaceutical companies because of the financial influence of that industry, that is corruption,” he continued. “When Congress guts the Affordable Care Act and destroys consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions because of the power of the insurance industry, that is corruption.
“When 90% of Americans support a simple, universal background check to buy a gun and Congress refuses because they’re afraid of the NRA and its financial power, that is corruption,” he said.
He went on to apply the “corruption” label to the silencing of the government’s own environmental scientists, which he said has been done to protect fossil fuel industries’ profits, and to other actions of President Donald Trump and his administration.
Ossoff, 32, has not held elected office. But in high school he interned with U.S. Rep. John Lewis before going on to attain a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a master’s from the London School of Economics. He worked as a national security aide to Rep. Hank Johnson, another Georgia Democrat in Congress, for five years.
12th District hopefuls
Elizabeth “Liz” Johnson, long active in the Bulloch County and state Democratic Party and a past candidate for state insurance commissioner, served as the gala’s master of ceremonies. She also announced her candidacy for U.S. House in District 12, becoming a potential challenger to U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, the Republican incumbent.
Another Democrat vying for the same seat, Dan Steiner of Augusta, also attended the gala.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.